What happened Monday night in Seattle was no surprise — it was just more of the same stuff we have seen all season from Pete Carroll’s unsteady Seahawks.
Penalties, turnovers, injuries, missed kicks, incompetent offense.
It all added up to a 34-31 home loss to Atlanta that was not as bad as the ridiculous defeat to Washington two weeks earlier but still wiped out any thought of a first-round playoff bye for Seattle this season.
There is simply no way the Hawks (6-4) will be able to catch up with the Eagles (9-1), Saints (8-2) and Vikings (8-2) for the top seeds.
These are not the 2014 Seahawks, who also were 6-4 after 11 weeks and then won their final six. That team had the NFL’s best running game and the No. 1 scoring defense, which is why it overcame its No. 1 ranking in penalties. These Hawks are No. 1 in only one of those categories — the penalties — and just aren’t complete enough to do any damage even if they do make the playoffs.
They still have a good chance to advance because the Rams (7-3) lost, keeping the Hawks one game back with their second meeting coming in Week 15 in Seattle.
Winning the division looks like the only way the Hawks can make the playoffs, especially as they continue to lose NFC games (a big tiebreaker). The Falcons would knock them out of one spot via this defeat, and Carolina (7-3) and Detroit (6-4) are ahead of them in the wild-card race, too. (Their three conference losses kill them against Detroit.)
These Hawks don’t have what it takes to run the table — especially with the Eagles, Jaguars (7-3) and Rams looming. Ten wins is their ceiling.
This game was just another bad-dream night in Seattle’s 2017 nightmare that has included too many penalties, costly injuries, poor blocking, bad kicking, ridiculous red zone offense, turnovers and poor coaching decisions. The Hawks are a potentially good team that continues to beat itself in every way you can think of.
Against Atlanta, Seattle tallied more yards (360-279), first downs (26-22) and red zone chances (6-3), and the Hawks dominated on special teams until Blair Walsh’s missed tying kick.
But the Hawks cost themselves again with nine penalties for 106 yards, keeping them on pace to set the NFL record for flags in a season. It was their fifth straight game over 100 yards — showing that Carroll simply cannot discipline his dudes.
Even though the revamped secondary kept Matt Ryan under 200 passing yards for the first time in 64 games, Ryan still converted 9 of 14 third downs — the key number for the Falcons. They converted four on their first two TD drives. Ryan even scrambled for 14 yards on a third-and-8 on the drive that put the Falcons up 31-20.
As much as some people want to lament Walsh’s missed 52-yard attempt that would have tied it or Carroll’s decision to fake a field goal at the end of the first half, this game was lost purely and simply on two turnovers by Russell Wilson. The Hawks have lost both games in which they have turned it over twice and lost the turnover battle; the other was against Washington.
Against Atlanta, one turnover was a bad throw that set up the Falcons for a quick 14-0 lead. The other was a fumble return for a TD after the line couldn’t contain the rush. That’s a combo fault of the line and Wilson.
The line had its typical unimpressive game — three sacks, eight hits, 50 yards on 16 runs by backs. Just two penalties — both holds.
Germain Ifedi and Oday Aboushi continue to make a mess of the right side. Both have struggled immensely this season, and they were abused by the Falcons’ good front. With Aboushi hurt and Luke Joeckel apparently ready to come back this week, Ethan Pocic should move to right guard. But he might struggle initially as he gets used to playing on the other side of Justin Britt and alongside a weaker tackle.
One thing the Hawks did do well, shockingly, is run RB screens. They have been abysmal at that play under Darrell Bevell, but they hit it twice for good gains against Atlanta and now have run three successful RB screens this season.
That makes two things the Hawks have kind of figured out on offense; Jimmy Graham scored another red zone TD and now has seven scores in his last six games. He leads the NFL in RZ targets. Yay, Bevell and Wilson.
However, the Hawks still suck inside the 20. They went just 2 for 6 and still rank toward the bottom of the league (25th at 47 percent). Those are about the same numbers they had in 2016, when they were blown out by Atlanta in the divisional playoffs. If they don’t fix it — and they probably can’t — they are destined to do no better this season either.
A big part of that problem is they can’t run when they want to. Defenses can make them one-dimensional near the goal line. So, unless Wilson is finding Graham, the Hawks are much better off attacking the end zone from afar.
Against Atlanta, Wilson hit Graham for a 4-yard score on the first RZ series. He hit him again a couple of times on the next RZ attempt, but Wilson failed to find anyone in the end zone, and a few ridiculously short plays and a penalty resulted in a field goal.
That brings us to the end of the half and the much-panned fourth-down play with seven seconds left. The Hawks had practiced a shovel to Luke Willson, thinking he might score on it. But he was swallowed up by Grady Jarrett.
We would have faked it there, too, because the Hawks trailed by a TD and were going to get the ball first to start the second half — and the Hawks knew they needed touchdowns, not field goals, to win this game. But we would have gone to the end zone through the air. Jon Ryan has done it before, and this was a great spot to try it again — throwing to a tackle-eligible or a tight end. The fake was a great idea; the play call was not.
The three points they left out there (assuming Walsh could have hit the field goal) were not the reason they lost the game though. Wilson’s turnovers, the penalties, the poor red zone performance, the third-down defense and Walsh’s missed kick at the end all added up to another home loss — and the loss of any real chance to claim a first-round bye or possibly even make the playoffs as a wild card.
It looks like division winners or bust now.